Posts Tagged ‘Recommendations’

Plastic Recommendation – Ella Dining Room & Bar

March 1, 2009

Photo: Ella Dining Room & Bar

David and I rarely go out for expensive dinners, as we’re trying to watch our budgets.  But, his mom offered us a dinner out for Valentine’s Day, and I suggested we try Ella Dining Room & Bar.  The restaurant is fairly new and was opened by a well known and well-respected Sacramento chef who owns The Kitchen.  David and I were both incredibly tired and not especially hungry, and when we arrived we immediately hit the bar for vodka Red Bulls.  This is not something we customarily do when we’re out for dinner, but we both needed a jolt of caffeine.  Alas, David was informed by the bartender, “we don’t serve energy drinks.”  He ordered a gin and tonic instead and got me a glass of wine.  When he arrived with the drinks, I asked him what he had ordered – the drink looked like ginger ale.  Turns out the restaurant makes their own tonic water, which does have a slight ginger element.  It was delicious.

We went easy on ordering, opting for a few small plates to share.  I was in the mood for oysters, but David hates them and they served them by the half dozen.  We started with potato gnocchi with broccolini, parma prosciutto, organic cream and Parmesan.  It was yummy, but on the heavy side.  We then shared brussels sprouts with black pepper bacon and cipollini onions and ravioli of mushrooms and fresh goat cheese with leeks and black truffle butter, which was my favorite dish of the meal.  I never eat truffles so it was a nice treat.

I love food.


My Top 10 Recipes – Glazed-Grilled Salmon With Perfect Steamed Rice & Wilted Spinach & Bok Choy

February 28, 2009

Salmon is my favorite fish, although I only like it prepared a few ways.  I HATE smoked salmon (too salty), raw salmon (unless it’s FRESH, it’s too fishy) or poached salmon (too heavy).  I like my salmon best from the Pacific, filleted (no steaks) and grilled.  Atlantic salmon is too mushy for my taste.  When David prepares salmon, it’s usually straight forward – salt, pepper and oil.  He is awesome at getting a perfect crispy crust.  When I make salmon, I tend to go the Asian route, creating a teriyaki-style marinade and pan grilling.  It’s a bit hot, a bit sweet, and the addition of brown sugar allows it to develop into a nice glaze.  I pair the salmon with simple steamed rice – I provide you with my method below and a vegetable, in this case spinach and bok choy wilted with leeks, garlic and pepper.

Ingredient List – Serves 2

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh grated ginger OR 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup short or medium grain white rice
  • One bunch spinach
  • 3-4 heads small bok choy
  • 1 leek
  • 1/4 medium-hot pepper

Mix the soy sauce, wine, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil, cayenne pepper, ginger and 4 of the garlic cloves, minced.  Marinate the salmon in a bowl or bag for about an hour.

Measure 1 cup of white rice.  Add to a bowl and fill with water until roughly 1/2 inch over the rice. Allow to sit for about a half hour.

Trim bok choy, allowing around an inch of the white stalk to remain.  Slice the remaining 4 garlic cloves and 1/4 of the hot pepper.  Trim the leek so that only the white and light green portions are remaining and cut down the middle lengthwise.

Add two cups of water to a saucepan.  Tie a hand towel around the lid of the pan, ensuring it’s taut along the interior of the lid.  Bring the water to a boil.  Drain the water from the measure rice and add rice to the water.  Cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until done.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large sauce pan and 1/2 tablespoon oil in a smaller saucepan, both over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks, garlic and pepper to the large saucepan and allow them to sizzle.  Add the salmon to the smaller pan, skin side down, with around 1/4 of the marinade.  Allow it to cook for a few moments.  Turn the salmon and add another 1/4 of the marinade.  Add the bok choy and then the spinach to the larger pan.  After a few more moment turn the salmon again and remove the skin.  Cover for a few for moments and then remove the lid, allowing the sauce to reduce a bit more.  Give the spinach and bok choy a toss or two until it’s cooked.  Check on the rice and remove it when done.  Serve the salmon over the rice and greens with some of the reduced sauce.  You may garnish with toasted sesame seeds, if you like.

My Top 10 Recipes – Spicy Broccoli With Crispy Fried Polenta

February 27, 2009

Spicy Broccoli with Crispy Friend Polenta

A reader suggested that I share my 10 favorite recipes, which I thought would be easy.  However, I had trouble deciding between my favorite everyday and favorite special occasion dishes.  I landed on the dishes that I crave often.  Some are easy, some are more complicated.  Many have been adapted from cookbooks, others I’ve made up myself.  I have made the decision to split the recipes out into separate posts, gathering them together in a summation post when I am finished.  I will start with my first recipe and list my other choices, all to come down the line!

Up first, spicy broccoli with crispy fried polenta.  The broccoli portion of this dish is adapted from a recipe from The Zuni Café Cookbook (Spicy Cauliflower & Broccoli Pasta).  The pasta is FABULOUS, and if you are interested, I highly recommend purchasing the cookbook.  I sometimes make this as a pasta, other times I make it as a side dish.  I sometimes use cauliflower, or broccoli, and often both.  Polenta is not something I cook often, but the following recipe is my favorite and I think it’s fantastic paired with the spicy broccoli as a wonderful vegetarian option.

Ingredient List – Serves 4

  • 2 heads broccoli
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 shakes of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 & 1/2 cup milk (may be replaced with water or vegetable stock to make dish vegan)
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/4 medium-hot pepper
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cut off the stalks of the broccoli and slice length-wise into thin (1/8 inch) strips.  Don’t worry about the florets as they break off.  The pieces should look like tiny little slabs with bits and pieces of floret.  Mince 6 cloves of fresh garlic and 1/4 cup parsley.

Line a small baking pan with parchment paper.  Simmer milk with 2 cloves of garlic, sprig of rosemary, lemon and pepper for five minutes.  Do not allow it to get too hot or the milk with burn.  After five minutes, remove the rosemary, garlic, pepper and lemon from the milk.  Season the milk with salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat and add the polenta in a slow stream while stirring.  Cook for a few more moments until the polenta is creamy.  Put the polenta into the baking pan and cover with another piece of parchment paper.  Press down with a flat object (like a smaller pan) until the polenta is around 1/4 inch thick and uniform.  Put into the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.

Remove polenta and cut into 2-3″ pieces.  I like to cut them into abnormal shapes so they are not uniform.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1/4 cup olive oil.  When hot, add the majority of the broccoli pieces, leaving the small florets behind.  Give the pan a good shake and LEAVE THE BROCCOLI to crisp up.  Do not be tempted to continually stir the broccoli or you will end up with a steaming mass.  After around 5 minutes give the broccoli a toss and add a dash of olive oil, the remaining bits of broccoli, the garlic and the red pepper flakes.  Leave to crisp again for a few more moments.  Add parsley and remove from heat.

Heat the remaining oil in another large sauté pan.  Add polenta pieces and fry each side until brown.  Plate the polenta and add the broccoli on top.  Add loads of yummy Parmesan cheese and serve!

Coming up in future top recipe posts…..

Herb-Roasted Pork Loin with Mustard Breadcrumbs (from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)

Glazed-Grilled Salmon

Strawberry Shortcake (from Martha Stewart)

Pan-Roasted Chicken (from Biba’s Northern Italian Cooking)

Garlic Hummus

Crab Cakes (from Saveur magazine)

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Chicken, Walnut & Apple Salad

Shrimp Cocktail

Top Ten Kitchen Gadgets

February 23, 2009

I took it as a sign that I should write about my favorite kitchen gadgets when I saw this recent post over at The Kitchn.  I had been contemplating writing about what I use most in the kitchen, and it was the final push I needed.

We cook a lot, and while we do have some nice gadgets, most of our cookware is basic and moderately priced.

Victorinox Knives

David and I received a set of these knives two Christmases ago.  It’s a low to mid-range brand that has served us well thus far.  I use the paring and chef’s knives most often.  You can purchase the Victorinox chef’s knife at Amazon for $23.  It’s currently rated at 5 stars (with 263 reviews).

Cuisinart 14 Cup Food Processor

Everyone tells you it’s a must have for the home cook.  They’re right.  This was another Christmas gift, and while we don’t use it as often as we’d like, it’s wonderful to have around when we need to whip up pesto or blend soup.

Double-Blade Mezzuluna

I’m not quite sure how I lived without this.  It’s fantastic for chopping and mincing herbs (I use it mostly for parsley).  I prefer those with two blades and a double handle, as they are easier to control.

Ikea Cutting Boards

Ikea cutting boards are cheap and of decent quality.  I buy both the wooden and plastic boards.  The wooden boards are used for cutting vegetables and for displaying cheeses and other spreads during parties.


In my opinion this is a must-have item for home cooks.  Perfect for grating hard cheeses, citrus, ginger, cloves, etc etc.  A flat-surface microplane is multi-functional, but I prefer our rotary grater for cheeses.

Citrus Juicers

Here’s a story David never hears the end of.  My friend K brought me back this awesome metal hand-held citrus juicer from Costa Rica (or Mexico, I can’t remember – she travels a lot).  I LOVED it.  In the summertime, I make loads of tart, citrus-drenched cocktails, and this juicer was indispensable.  Then David broke it.  I was so upset.  It has been replaced with lemon and lime juicers (in citrus-coordinating colors, of course) that I picked up at Sur la Table.  But I still miss my old one, especially because I know it cost K under a buck.

Calphalon Nonstick Pans

This is a perfect example of a non-fancy item we use in the kitchen.  Cookware can be phenomenally expensive, and I know that we will someday replace our pans with lovely copper, cast iron or stainless steel pieces.  For now, these work just fine, especially considering that we don’t even have a gas range.  I find myself using the 12″ everyday pan most often.

Piral Terra Cotta Pot

This gets used more than our dutch oven, believe it or not.  It’s quite similar to the one shown except taller, and I got it for a steal at Sur la Table.  We use it often to make David’s famous, buttery rice pilaf.


I think I use these OXO tongs just as often as I use wooden spoons.

Expobar Espresso Machine

I’ve spoken of our espresso machine before, but it simply cannot be left out of a discussion of kitchen gadgets.  We use it at LEAST twice a day.  It’s our baby, and it’s a powerhouse.

Next up, my top 10 ingredients.

Boutique Hostels – New Trend Or Misnomer?

February 18, 2009

The Ace Hotel, Portland, OR

I’m not a fan of hostels. There, I’ve said it. Call me unadventurous, call me a snob, I don’t care. I want to like them and am fully aware of their virtues, but I simply can’t hop aboard the Hostel Love Train. This is a major problem for David, who has traveled alone through most of Europe. The boy loves hostels. Then again, he’s a boy, and he’s social. Whereas I am a self-proclaimed high(er)-maintenance girl and not quite as social. I’m not looking for new people to chat with when I check into my lodgings, I am looking for a decent bathtub and a bar.

Granted, not all hostels are created equal. And, admittedly, I don’t have a tremendous amount of hostel experience. I’ve stayed in four, all in Scotland, and only because I was forced by a tour I took with friends. I had a blast, and I didn’t mind the hostels; but in my post-college and coupled state, I would really prefer to avoid bunk-beds and nasty communal showers.

Enter the Boutique Hostel, which, according to Budget Travel, is the “new trend.” The idea piqued my interest, but upon further investigation I learned that some of the hostels were…..well, not really hostels at all. All, with the exception of those featured in Bangkok and Lisbon (where it’s cheap to travel, period), will cost you over $100 for a private room. You can find a similar deal at thousands of other boutique hotels around the world, many of whom offer European (read: shared showers) lodgings. That said, I love discovering new and affordable places to stay.

Budget Travel Recommends

Mama’s Shelter
Paris, France


  • Designed by Philippe Starck.
  • All private rooms, all with kitchenettes, iMacs and showers.
  • Located on the Right Bank.
  • Attached restaurant head by star chef.

Aschau Im Chiemgau, Germany


  • 13 private rooms.
  • TV-free and 1000+ books.
  • Located in a medieval hamlet located 90 minutes by train from Munich and 45 minutes by car from Salzburg.
  • Lots of restaurant local choices, from budget to foodie.

Los Angeles


  • Private and shared rooms.
  • Near Little Tokyo and MOCA.
  • Restaurant and bar planned for the future.

Lub d
Bangkok, Thailand


  • Broad range of rooms are available, from private to shared.
  • Located near Silom district, with plenty of shopping and eating nearby.
  • Walking tours offered every Thursday morning.
  • Hotel movie theater, with free popcorn!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands


  • Located near the Schipol Airport.
  • All private rooms with XL beds and touch-screen mood/temperature control.
  • 20-minute train ride into Amsterdam.
  • Second location slated to open in Amsterdam’s business district.

Living Lounge Hostel
Lisbon, Portuga


  • Located in the Baixa section of Lisbon.
  • 17 artists designed the rooms, ensuring that none are the same.
  • Singles, doubles and dorms available.
  • Morning walking tours with wine tasting and 4-course meals served nightly, for 10 bucks.

Penny Plastic Recommends

The Ace Hotel
NYC, Portland, Seattle, Palm Springs

I’ve made no secret of my love for Ace Hotels. And any hotel offering $100/night rates in NYC, much less an awesome hotel like Ace, gets my vote. Big time.

The White House
Melbourne, Australia

Joie de Vivre Hotels
San Francisco

Galleria Park Hotel is a fabulous hotel near Union Square that feels quite decedent for the price.

Personality Hotels
San Francisco

Hotel Metropolis is positioned just north of Market Street near Union Square. I’ve stayed here quite a bit, as it’s very close to my favorite SF club, Mezzanine and one of my favorite SF restaurants, Zuni Cafe. It’s simple, modern, and they serve wine every evening. They also offer special rooms just for children. Rates from $70/night.

Plastic Recommendation – Bottle Shock

February 9, 2009

Okay, so I realize I may be biased here….I grew up in Northern California, I attended UCD (which has a brilliant viticulture program) and I LOVE wine.  But, this movie is rad.  Beautiful landscapes, good subject, awesome 70’s southern rock music.

I took my dad to see it last Father’s Day and we totally fell in love.  It’s like Phenomenon (also set in Sonoma); he and I spent so much time driving through that area when I was a kid – Navarro, Healdsburg, Calistoga, Napa, Sonoma……it just takes me back!

See it.  Trust.

Also, I am thinking of doing a post on throwing a wine tasting party for newbies on a budget, thoughts?

Plastic Recommendation – Tano Leather Bags

January 15, 2009

Reader stacyinbean recently asked for a bag recommendation, as she is planning on buying a great new bag with her tax refund.  I immediately thought of Tano and decided I must share the recommendation with all of you.

I own one Tano bag, I bought it in NYC in the fall (BB – Before Budget, the bag was 200 bucks).  I was with my friend S, who told me, “Oh God, these bags are the best, I have one and I love it.”  This was in October, and I’ve carried it every day since.  This is unheard of for me.  Sure, I don’t swap my bag with every outfit, but I usually change up bags every month or so.

It’s a super soft caramel brown (same as the first bag shown below) messenger bag with a shoulder strap.  A lot of their bags are designed with these two straps, which I love.  I can throw it over my shoulder or sling it across my torso; either way, the other strap does not get in the way.

If you are looking to splurge on a good bag, Tano is a fantastic value that I highly, highly recommend.

Images: Tano